BUCKHANNON - The Upshur County Board of Education received plenty of feedback from both parents and school employees Tuesday during the first of two hearings on proposed sample calendars for the 2014-2015 school year.
The calendars - which are posted on the school system's website, www.upshurcountyschools.com - were created to comply with a new West Virginia Board of Education policy, which was adopted Dec. 11, 2013. That policy is based on Senate Bill 359 that went into effect Jan. 13, 2013, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager said at the outset of Tuesday's hearing, held at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.
"The main purpose of changing the calendar law was that with all of the days that we have been missing of school due to snow - and those counties that have even worse winters than we do - we were not getting the 180 days of instruction," Wager said, "and in fact, we will not get 180 days in this year because we're still operating under the old calendar law."
"So the first part of this law is that 'you will have 180 days of instruction' no matter what happens during the winter," he explained.
Another key aspect of the policy is the expansion of the number of weeks within which to log those 180 days, from 43 to 48, Wager said.
"We now have five extra weeks to work with, in which to get the required 180 days of instruction," he said.
Two hundred employment days - exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays - must be completed, and those days will be divided into 10 20-day months. The 200 mandated employment days, however, cannot extend beyond 48 weeks, Wager said.
"In other words, with the new calendar law, we could go to the end of June, but we can't go past the end of June," he explained.
A "Sample 1" calendar posted on the school system's website shows an employment term start date of Aug. 11; a first instructional day of Aug. 13,; the first day of the last semester on Dec. 23; a last instructional day of May 19, 2015; and a last employment term date of May 29, 2015.
In the "Sample 2" calendar, the first day of the employment term is set at Aug. 13; the first instructional day is scheduled for Aug. 15; the last day of the first semester would be Dec. 23; the final instructional day for students is slated for May 21, 2015; and May 21, 2015 would be the last day of the employment term.
Wager said the school system, which will soon be adopting the state's policy, can mandate that school days be longer to make up lost minutes.
"Let's say we didn't have to make up the days we lost, we could say, school's going to go from 8 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the evening, and that's extra instructional minutes for the students," the superintendent said. "I'm not saying we're going to do that, but they can be used to recover our lost time whether we have a two-hour delay or a late start."
Early dismissals and late starts must also be made up according to state policy, Wager added. Additionally, administrators in Lewis, Barbour and Upshur counties are working closely to align their calendars because students in all three counties attend the Fred Eberle Technical Center in Buckhannon.
"Another big change in the law that's not mentioned in here is that the board votes on the calendar," Wager said. "There is no such thing as a calendar committee. The law does not specify that; the only thing it specifies is that a calendar is developed and taken to the board and that they determine which calendar they want."
Typically, a calendar committee surveys school system employees to get a feel for their preferences regarding the calendar, but "that's kind of gone away," Wager said. However, the superintendent said administrators in Lewis, Barbour and Upshur counties are considering past calendars and taking the wishes of parents and school personnel seriously.
"In some counties like Kanawha County, which is not a rural county certain things like hunting season are not important because they don't have a lot of that going on in their counties and in some counties, spring break's no big deal," Wager said. "Christmas is not a big deal; they don't care if they go right up to Christmas Eve to use as instructional days.
"We are kind of trying to protect those," he continued. "It doesn't mean that in an emergency we might not have to use some of those because those are considered out-of-calendar days, but in the calendars we're looking at, the three counties want to kind of protect the traditional calendar that we've had as long as I've been in Upshur County."
However, one educator who attended Tuesday's public hearing said she is disappointed the administration hasn't done more to collect feedback from the public.
Jan Craig, a special education case manager for Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and Buckhannon-Upshur High School, asked why Upshur County was the only county in the area that wasn't using Survey Monkey, an online survey software program.
"Lewis and Barbour counties didn't do it," Wager replied.
"But almost every other county has," Craig countered. "It's been widely publicized in Tucker. Is there a reason we didn't do it?"
Wager said the county "just chose not to."
"I think that's unfortunate because regardless of what you got, it let the public feel like they had some input into it," Craig said. "I think it's a shame that the public hearings came after the samples were out because I think that sends a clear message that it's almost a done deal in many people's minds as they've talked to me."
The sample 2014-2015 school calendars were published on the school system's website Feb. 22.
Other parents attended Tuesday's meeting to voice support for an earlier start date to the school year.
"The samples that are out on the website actually look very encouraging," Alan Batchelor, a local parent, told the school board. "As a parent, I want to go on the record as saying I do support the earlier starts. The fact that we can make up days all the way through June 30 doesn't bother me."
Another parent, Lance Cragle, said he, his wife and their friends and associates "all support an earlier start and an earlier dismissal."
"I have four boys that have gone through the school system and all of them agree they'd rather start in the middle or earlier August to be out Memorial Day," Cragle said.
"When it comes to June 1, they want done. They would rather go to school in August and have their June and July. At the end of the school year, they're antsy. The weather's nice, they want out."
Board member Dr. Tammy Samples thanked attendees for their comments.
"We do listen," she said. "We do try to take into consideration everything you bring to us."
"We want to hear what everybody has to say," Board President Teresa Bellamy agreed.
Wager will continue to accept comments at the board office, located at 102 Smithfield St. in Buckhannon.
The second and final public hearing on the calendar will take place at 6 p.m. March 25 at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.